With many people working from home recently, businesses may be reviewing the need for their existing floor space in office buildings. Property owners may seek to use existing permitted development rights to change the use of office buildings to a residential use.

Permitted development rights to change from an office use (Use Class B1(a)) to a residential use (Use Class C3) are subject to a number of limitations and conditions. One such condition is the need to apply to the local planning authority for prior approval, for issues such as the impact of noise from commercial premises on the intended residential occupiers.

Prior approval applications are intended to be less onerous than applications for planning permission, with the principle of the development already approved by general consent – the conversion of buildings to residential use under permitted development rights seen as a resourceful boost to housing supply.

Things to consider

Exclusion of permitted development rights

Before embarking on a prior approval application to change the use to residential, it will be important to consider the conditions attached to your original planning permission. You will not be able to make use of permitted development rights if your planning permission for the office use includes a condition preventing their use.

The use of the property may also be controlled by a S106 planning obligation; they will not remove permitted development rights, however, a change of use may amount to a breach of covenant in the S106 enforceable by injunction.

It is possible that the Local Planning Authority have removed some or all permitted development rights in the area where the property is located with an Article 4 Direction. This should always be checked before relying on any permitted development rights.

Is there already a lawful B1 use?

It will only be possible to convert a property from office to residential under Class O if it was used as an office (within Use Class B(1)(a)) on 29 May 2013, or, in the case of a building which was in use before that date but was not in use on 29 May 2013, when it was last in use.

It is important to ensure that the existing use of the building does fall within Class B(1)(a). Determining whether the use of a building falls within Class B(1)(a) will sometimes be a matter of fact and degree and “planning judgment”. Some businesses may in fact fall within Class A2 “financial services” or “professional services”, for example, rather than as an office use under Class B(1)(a).

Issues can arise in situations where the use of a property comprises a number of uses, only one of which is as an office. Change of use under Class O can be carried out only where the planning unit in question is solely used as an office within Class B1(a).